Food, Health, and Nutrition in Ghana

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Excerpt

During the summer of 2016, I spent 7 weeks living and working in Ghana as a medical missionary. I worked in small villages and local hospitals providing care to people who didn't have access to nursing or medical care. During this time, I immersed myself in the Ghanaian culture and lived the way the locals lived.
After a week in Ghana, I would have killed for a bacon cheeseburger, a salad, and a smoothie. Choosemyplate.org suggests that a well-rounded diet consists of nearly equal parts of fruit, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Although that is the ideal diet, many people in the United States don't meet their nutritional needs and are lacking in one area or another. I know while at home I don't always eat as many fruits and vegetables as I should. Our American diets are over processed, over proportioned, and high in sugar or salt. But our diets are this way because we have the privilege of making them this way. Americans have so much food that we have the opportunity to make our diets unhealthy!
While in Ghana, a cook made three squares a day for me. The cook prepared traditional Ghanian dishes and tried to “Americianize” them. The dishes I have had varied from rice and fish, to beans and rice, to banku (corn and cassava dough) and stew, plantains and peanuts. For breakfast, I had oatmeal, an egg, toast, and tea. All meals have one thing in common—they consist of 75% grains and starches, 15% protein, 10% vegetables and fruits. Now I love bread and pasta as much as the next person, but when your daily diet consists of mostly grains and starches, your body is lacking in the nutrients it needs!
Ghana is a fertile country that grows many crops but transportation is difficult. The main crops are maize (corn), yam, plantains, and cassava, which are all starches/grains. In smaller proportions and in different regions, bananas, mangos, pineapples, and avocados are grown. If the crop isn't plentiful that season, or the crop isn't grown in the region you are in, the cost of transporting these items is prohibitively expensive. Because there aren't many farms that grow vegetables and farm animals, meat and vegetables are rare and expensive.
Ghana doesn't have big grocery stores with all the fruits and vegetables you can think of as we do in the States. There are outside markets where people sell what they have and buy what they can afford. Unfortunately, most can't afford much because the daily minimum wage is 7 cedi ($1.80). The cost of living here is extremely high; Ghana has been ranked as one of the most expensive places to live. It would cost a family of four over 3,000 cedi a month to get by. Because of the lack of resources and money, malnutrition rates are very high. The rate of malnutrition throughout the world is too high—12.9% of the world's population is malnourished. But here in Ghana, 38% of people are malnourished and sadly over 8,500 die annually from malnutrition.
Because I worked in the villages and hospitals, I've seen how malnutrition affects people. I have seen babies with low birthweights and underdeveloped children. It's shocking when you ask a child's age and you expect them to be 4 or 5 when they are actually 9. I have seen jaundice, hypertension, and diabetes, all because of malnutrition!
Being in a situation like this made me grateful for the luxuries I have. Good food shouldn't be a luxury. In America Starbucks, fast food, grocery stores, and restaurants are ubiquitous.
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